Sunday, 11 May 2008

The biggest political gamble ever?

I can't quite imagine how a politician could gamble more than Wendy Alexander has chosen to do on the question of Scottish Independence. The tactical manoeuvre was completely inept. Alex Salmond easily swatted away the call for an early referendum on Scottish Independence and now has a blank cheque of Labour support whenever he does decide to go for it. Scots are unlikely to go for independence as John Curtice explains here but given a straight yes-no question on independence in, let's run with a scenario, the context of a new Conservative government that Scotland hadn't voted for and a moderately or highly popular SNP Scottish administration, a 'no' vote, though unlikely, is far from certain.

What may have seemed like good Holyrood politics, wasn't. The SNP is now completely in control of the process and Labour will either have to fall in behind with some whining about the timing or sustain a huge political cost. This is insane.

Why not just get on with being a good and competent opposition, put together a coherent case for reform of the devolution settlement, then argue consistently and clearly for a devolution v independence v status quo referendum further down the line? Such a referendum would be almost certain not to result in a vote for independence. Again, nothing is certain but on an issue such as this you need to play the probabilities.

Finally, a word for the SNP. If you believe that independence would be anything other than a disaster for Scotland you are mistaken. This is not to suggest that Scotland couldn't survive as an independent country, of course it could. It is rather to argue that Scotland secures enormous benefits from the union as currently constituted.

For the whole of the UK, the independence of Scotland would be a complete national humiliation, it would diminish the respect and authority we enjoy in the international environment. That will harm our ability to secure the right international agreements on trade, the environment, and so many other areas that require international cooperation. Our ability to manage our own economy, society, and environment will consequently harmed.

Wendy, you've not only gambled your own stake, but you've gambled ours as well. Goodness knows what the consequences will be but I suspect we are now into damage limitation mode.

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